October 22, 2010

Underdome Sessions - Talking About Energy

GrowingCities attended the final panel discussion last night of The Underdome Sessions, a series of four discussions on energy and public life. The Sessions are the most recent public output of Underdome, a project headed by architects Janette Kim and Erik Carver that maps various approaches to energy management and performance in order to examine their implications for public life. Underdome catalogs a spectrum of positions
argued for by a diverse cast including economists, environmentalists, community advocates, political scientists, and designers (last night's discussion was no different) and highlights certain architecture questions of professional agency, the contemporary city, and collective priorities in the face of uncertain energy futures.

Each panel discussion of the Underdome Sessions has focused on a different aspect of the general theme of energy - first territory, then power, lifestyle, and last night's concluding session, risk. The sessions have been held at Columbia University's Studio X in Soho, and the risk panel featured quite a range of speakers that included urban planner Rae Zimmerman, historian Jonathan Levy, risk analysist Cary Krosinsky, law professor Scott Holladay, risk specialist Andy Thompson, and architecture professor, Michael Osman.

Underdome poster

The key issue raised in the discussion dealt with how to set priorities and make informed decisions about the future in a time of such uncertainty. In the business world, sustainable development models are relatively new and thus have a shorter history of success and are a greater risk. If a company or industry has been very successful for several decades, what guarantee do they have that shifting to a more sustainable model will produce the same profit or higher?

The panel discussed the idea shared by many that the reversing human induced global warming is just too expensive and not possible. However, when leading economists agree that the damages we are and will incur due to global warming are far greater than the cost of reversing our actions now. For those who do not believe that humans have a role in global warming, separate studies have been done about human induced health risks, the studies show that the cost of the health risks created by air pollution, water pollution, and other factors is also greater than the cost of revering our actions.

Janette Kim introduces the panel
The topic of energy is of course very relevant to the urban food movement, as food production and energy have been very closely linked for well over 100 years. The idea of growing food in cities has been criticized by some for is inefficiencies, excessive use of electricity, and infeasibility on a large scale. However, if anything can be said about the urban food movement in general it is that urban farmers are continually looking for ways to provide the freshest, healthiest food in the most sustainable and ecologically friendly manner

The energy consumption of low wattage grow lights and pumps is quite low compared to the use of tractors and other large-scale farm machinery, fertilizer and pesticide production, and long range transportation, all of which are common for a typical commercial farm in the United States.

And really, urban farming is just another industry. When compared to other urban industries,  farms in general use less heavy machinery that requires less energy to run. These farms are relying on natural compost piles for their fertilizer, employ companion planting and other natural remedies for pests, harvest all their produce by hand, and generally avoid use of gas-powered machinery. Their delivery range is usually within a few miles of the farm. Many urban farms have been operating for years, are making profits, and will be back next season for more.

The panel speaks to the crowd
The discussion was quite fascinating and really brought some important issues to the table. Studio X was packed, and many audience members got involved in the conversation, which spurred some interesting back-and-forth between panel and audience.

Thank you to Janette Kim and Erik Carver for organizing such a fascinating series, with quite an array of speakers from a wide range of disciplines. To see the full list of speakers for all four panel discussions, visit the Underdome website.

Check out our next post: A Real Greenhouse (House)

No comments: